Fiery Zaheer bowls Baroda into final

Zaheer Khan

Zaheer Khan  

BARODA, FEB. 15 There is no escape for batsmen facing Zaheer Khan on a roll, or Rakesh Patel steaming in from behind the umpire. On a lucky day, a snick perhaps or else the familiar rattle of timber. Baroda had wicket- keeper Nayan Mongia, close-in cordon Jacob Martin, Connor Williams and Valmick Buch acting as force multipliers.

Punjab, chasing 219 runs for victory with more than two days to spare, was bowled out for a shocking 82 in the Ranji Trophy semifinal on Friday.

Zaheer reaped a six-wicket haul, Rakesh got two vital breakthroughs as Baroda stormed into the final on the strength of a 136-run victory 70 minutes after lunch on the third day at the GSFC ground. The host and defending champion, having extended its second innings score to 233 on the strength of a courageous 66 not out from Ajit Bhoite, destroyed Punjab's hopes with a show of teamwork.

India coach John Wright, a witness the home crowd running in from three sides to greet their heroes, may have nodded his head in appreciation.

``I told my boys not to worry about the first innings lead, convincing them that 15-runs deficit is nothing. I knew the match could swing either way,'' said Baroda skipper Jacob Martin, whose temperament came through in final stage of this exciting semifinal. ``I knew the match was ours once we got rid of the Punjab top order. Then it was only a matter of time before they collapsed,'' said the India middle-order batsmen for whom the forthcoming Ranji Trophy final is possibly the last match for his home State. Next season he will represent Railways in domestic cricket, alongwith Ajit Bhoite.

The Baroda all-rounder, unbeaten on 34 overnight, carried on till he ran out of partners on the third day, 66 not out (127 minutes, 88 balls, eights fours, one six), a major influence in his team's second innings total extending to 233 . Bhoite whose compact batting against Harbhajan Singh and bursts of aggression against new ball bowlers Vineet Sharma, Amit Oniyal on a bouncy wicket will not have escaped the attention of three of the five national selectors.

Punjab, needing to knock off 219 in the second innings, might have entertained notions of victory when Zaheer Khan came off the field after two average overs. Shekhar Joshi, playing just his third game for Baroda, started the slide by having opener Ravneet Ricky caught in the slips by Buch. Rakesh Patel, Zaheer's regular new ball partner, rose to the occasion with a fiery spell (6-0-17-2) in which he sent back opener Munish Sharma and Yuveraj Singh, both beaten by pace and lift, wicket- keeper Mongia's classy catching doing the rest.

Zaheer took over from there, sending back Pankaj Dharmani with a nasty delivery, skipper Martin pulling off a reflex catch in the slips after the ball flew within range of a top edge. Dinesh Mongia went next, attempting to hit out but Sudeep Kale at cover taking a smart catch. Left-arm spinner Buch deceived Punjab skipper Vikram Rathour in flight, the batsman spooning a catch to cover. The tail stood exposed as Zaheer ran in to complete the demolition , three batsmen edging behind the wicket and last man bowled at the end of his second spell which read 9-1-13-6, for a match haul of 10-137.

Baroda's amazing turnaround this season deserves mention, as manager Vinit Wadkar pointed out, losing the first two games outright, then winning the next four outright for another crack at the title. ``Bhoite and Zaheer won this one for us. Our success is due to teamwork, otherwise there is no way a side can come back after losing the first two. Now we are in the final again,'' he said.

The scores:

Baroda- 1st innings: 222

Punjab- 1st innings: 237

Baroda- 2nd innings: C. Williams c (sub) Sawal b Oniyal 0, S. Kale c M.Sharma b Harbhajan 4, N. Mongia b Oniyal 29, J. Martin c Sawal b Oniyal 41, T. Arothe c Dharmani b V. Sharma 10, A. Bedade c Rathour b V. Sharma 9, A. Bhoite 66 (not out), R. Patel b Navdeep 1, Zaheer c Oniyal b Harbhajan 35, V. Buch b Harbhajan 19, S. Joshi b Oniyal 0. Extras (b-8, lb-5, nb- 5, w-1) 19. Total (in 56.3 overs) 233.

Fall of wickets: 1-0, 2-23, 3-53, 4-82, 5-98, 6-103, 7-118, 8-179, 9-215.

Punjab bowling: Vineet Sharma 15-6-49-2, Amit Oniyal 15.3-1-56-4, Harbhajan Singh 21-3-87-3, Navdeep Singh 5-0- 28-1.

Punjab- 2nd innings: R. Ricky c Buch b Joshi 12, M. Sharma c Mongia b R. Patel 13, Y. Singh c Mongia b R. Patel 0, P. Dharmani c Martin b Zaheer 20, D. Mongia c Kale b Zaheer 7, V. Rathour c (sub) Y. Pathan b Buch 12, N. Singh c Mongia b Zaheer 0, H. Singh c Williams b Zaheer 8, A.Oniyal (not out) 1, V. Sharma c Martin b Zaheer 4, H.Puri b Zaheer 0. Extras (lb-1, nb-4) 5. Total (in 30 overs) 82.

Fall of wickets: 1-23, 2-26, 3-30, 4-46, 5-63, 6-69, 7-77, 8-78, 9-82.

Baroda bowling: Zaheer Khan 11-1-25-6, Rakesh Patel 8-0-21-2, Shekhar Joshi 8-1-26-1, Valmick Buch 2-0- 9-1, Ajit Bhoite 1-1-0-0.

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